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Author:Rev. W.B. Slomp
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Congregation:Immanuel Canadian Reformed Church
 Edmonton, Alberta
Title:The Miraculous Work of Being Born Again through the Holy Spirit.
Text:John 3: 3-5 (View)
Topic:The work of The Holy Spirit

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)


Psalm 139: 1, 4

Psalm 78: 1, 2, 3

Psalm 25: 2, 5, 6

Psalm 51: 4, 6

Hymn 24: 5, 6


Read: John 3: 1-21

Text: John 3: 3-5

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. W.B. Slomp, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.

Beloved congregation of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, brothers and sisters:  


The birth of a child is a wonderful event in the life of a family and also in the life of the church. Every time a child is born we stand in awe of the miracle of birth. Although there are a lot of things we do not know about the exact process of the birth of a baby, in broad outlines there is no mystery. We know how it happens and when it happens.


The text we are dealing with today also deals with birth, but it deals with spiritual birth. That is also a great miracle and one that comes with many questions. Many of us are not as certain about when spiritual birth happens and how it happens. At what point in your life are you reborn? At what point in your life do you have the Holy Spirit? Does a little baby have the Holy Spirit already from birth? How exactly do I receive the Holy Spirit? Do I receive the Holy Spirit because I have been born into a Christian family? Do I then receive the Holy Spirit automatically? How do I know that I have the Holy Spirit? Can I be certain that I have the Holy Spirit from God?


There appear to be a lot of things that we don't know about the Holy Spirit. One thing we do know however is that you cannot enter the kingdom of God unless you are born again. That is clear from what the Lord Jesus said to Nicodemus. The Form for the Baptism of Children quotes this text. But when the Lord Jesus speaks these words he speaks them to an adult. How can you apply that to children?


There are a lot of questions that need answers. In today’s sermon we will hear about:

The Miraculous Work of Being Born Again through the Holy Spirit.

Our rebirth is:

1. Initiated by the Holy Spirit;

2. Confirmed in the covenant;

3. Controlled by God.


1. It is noteworthy how the Lord Jesus comes to speak about the concept of being born again. The issue came about because of a question from a man of the Pharisees named Nicodemus. He was puzzled by who the Lord Jesus was. He observed the miracles that the Lord Jesus was performing, and saw the excitement that he stirred up amongst the people, and he wanted to know more about him. And so Nicodemus came to the Lord Jesus at night.


Some say that he came to him at night because he did not want the other Pharisees to know that he was coming to see Jesus; that he wanted to keep it secret. However, the text does not say that. It just mentions that he came at night. It could well be, and this is a more likely explanation, that he came at night because in the evening things are quieter. At night you have fewer interruptions and it is easier to have a lengthy and deep discussion. That's what Nicodemus wanted for he was struggling with something quite profound. He was a very religious man and took his relationship with God very seriously. That is why the ministry of the Lord Jesus was so troubling to him. Nicodemus wondered whether or not Jesus was the Messiah, the Anointed One, for whom they had been waiting.


Nicodemus did not ask the Lord Jesus directly whether or not he was the Messiah however the Lord Jesus could see that that was the question in his heart. But the Lord Jesus does not address that issue. He does not confirm or deny that he is the Messiah even though he could have done that. He could have quoted the Old Testament and showed Nicodemus how everything in the Old Testament points to his coming and that it has now been fulfilled. He could have pointed to the miracles that he was doing and to all the other signs that showed him to be the Messiah, the Son of God. But he does not do that because the Lord Jesus knows that it really would not make any difference in the mind of Nicodemus. If you want to understand who the Messiah is, then you cannot come to that understanding through a logical deduction. Not that logic and reason are excluded – not at all – but in the final analysis it is always a matter of faith. It is a matter of the inclination of the heart. If you don't want to believe something, then you won't, no matter what evidence is presented.


Mankind has not changed in that regard. The same thing is true today. We can all observe the miracle of creation. We can clearly see how this wonderful creation could never have come about by chance or by evolution. The evidence of a mighty Creator is overwhelming and yet the majority of the people do not believe. They don't want to. You can come to them with all the evidence in the world but if they do not want to accept that God has made everything, then whatever you say to them makes no difference. They won't believe it. It is always a matter of faith. It's always a matter of the heart.


That’s the way it is with everything. Take abortion as an example. Those who are in favour of abortion will not even admit that the baby is alive in the womb. Such a child has his own bloodstream and heartbeat, yet they will consider the child as being nothing more than an appendix, a disposable organ. They don’t believe it is alive because they don’t want to. Man only believes what he wants to believe, unless the Holy Spirit changes his heart.


It is for that reason that the Lord Jesus speaks to Nicodemus about being born again. What he says to him is something very important. That is clear from the way he introduces what he is about to say. He begins by saying, as the NIV has it, "I tell you the truth." Other translations have, "Truly, truly, I say to you." That's a better translation. In the Greek it literally says, "Amen, amen, I say to you." Whenever the Lord Jesus uses these words you have to pay close attention. He is about to teach you something quite extraordinary.


Then come the important words: "No one can see the kingdom of God unless he is born again."  Nicodemus' ultimate concern was the kingdom. He wanted to be part of God's kingdom. That is why he asked the question: "Is he (Jesus) the long-awaited Messiah, the anointed one from the Lord? Is he the one who holds the key to the kingdom of heaven?"


That ultimately is what motivates all of us. By nature we are concerned about ourselves and our place in God's kingdom. For us too, the question is "Will I go to heaven when I die? Am I going to be enjoying all the wonderful blessings of the life hereafter? That is also what Nicodemus is after.


The Lord Jesus understands that. But now the Lord Jesus says that you cannot see the kingdom unless you are born again. Note well that he uses the expression "to see the kingdom" in verse three, whereas in verse five he speaks about "entering" the kingdom. That is because there is a progression in view here. First of all you have to see the kingdom. You have to perceive it. You have to understand what God's kingdom is all about. You have to understand who the king is and who the citizens of that kingdom are. Only then can you come to an understanding as to how to enter the kingdom.


So what is God's kingdom all about? Well, God's kingdom is first of all a spiritual kingdom. We have to fix our eyes above, where Christ is, in heaven. Rather than having a horizontal understanding we need to have a vertical understanding. That is why the Lord Jesus uses a word that can have two meanings. The way most translations render what the Lord Jesus says is that you must be "born again". But that word "again" can also just as easily be translated as "above". You must be born from above. That is why the NIV footnote gives that as a possible translation. The Holy Spirit comes from above. He has to initiate your rebirth.


In other words the rebirth does not come about because of a decision of man. No, it comes from above. Because of something that God does. We come to the second point.


2. Please understand the tradition that Nicodemus is coming from. He is a Pharisee. He is deeply concerned about his entrance into the kingdom. But he thinks that the way in is through work righteousness. It is through something that you do, or because of who you are. The Pharisees are proud of the fact that they descended from Abraham, and therefore are God's special people. For God made the promises to Abraham and his seed. For them the matter of the kingdom is, first of all, a birthright and, in the second place, something to which you personally contribute.


But that is not the way into God's kingdom. It is something much more profound. That is what Nicodemus needed to understand and what we need to understand as well. Certainly the descendants of Abraham are God's special covenant children. But they are God's special people only because he chose to proclaim his Word to them, to Israel, out of all the other nations. He revealed himself to that people. He came to them with the 10 words of the covenant on Mount Sinai. And he sent to that nation the prophets. Out of his own free will he chose that nation.


But not everyone who is descended of Abraham will be saved. There were many of God's people who rejected God's covenant; who did not keep his commandments; who walked away from the covenant; who did not want to listen to the prophets and who did not want to listen to the greatest prophet of all, namely the Lord Jesus Christ.


So there is more to entering the kingdom of heaven than just being part of God's special people. It is not just a matter of a physical bond with God and his people, but a matter of a spiritual bond.


When we baptize our children we do so because they are covenant children. As such they are set apart as God's special children. What makes them so special? God’s love. In his great love he gave them parents who belong to God's covenant. He gave them parents who are going to teach their children in the ways of the Lord as they grow up. They will teach them about God's wonderful covenant, about his promises and his demands. For that is what faithful Christian parents promise to do at the time of their baptism.  They will read to them every day from the Bible at the supper table. As soon as they're able to sit still long enough without making a disturbance they're going to take them along to church. They will make sure that their children receive a Christian education. They will send them to catechism. They will ensure that they have Christian friends.


You see, it is those things that make our children special, holy even. That is also what Paul says to the Corinthians. He says in 1 Corinthians 7:14 that the children of a believing parent are not unclean, but holy. Holiness has to do with the fact that they have been set apart. It has to do with the fact that they are washed with the word. That's also what the Lord Jesus refers to when he says in John 15:3, "You are already clean because of the word I have spoken to you."


Ultimately our children are special people because of the Word of God that is given to them. It has nothing to do with them because of any personal attributes. It was not so either that the nation Israel was such a fine people that the Lord chose them. Israel as such was not any better or more worthy than the other nations around them.


That is also the way it is with God's people today. Parents who bring their children to the baptismal font are not any better than anyone else. They are sinners like everyone else. They are not worthy of themselves. They are not exceptional except for one thing. God has revealed his Word to them. And now they believe. Even that faith is a gift from God. We have nothing to boast of in ourselves.


But now then, what if a child doesn't want anything to do with the Word? If, after all the instruction the child has received, he or she walks away? Well, then that child has rejected the word of God. Then that grown-up child has only him or herself to blame for the fact that he or she is no longer part of the kingdom. The Scriptures do not know of covenantal automatism. You also have to do something.


But please understand that that is not your starting point. The Lord God initiates the covenant. He comes to his special people, including the children, with his wonderful promises. He does that already before they understand anything at all. He doesn't make a covenant with you because of your faith or because of anything that you do. No, he makes a covenant with you in spite of the great sinner that you are and in spite of the great sinners that our children are.


That is also what Jesus is trying to tell Nicodemus. Nicodemus, however, pretends that he doesn’t understand. That is why he comes with the question "How can a man be born when he is old? Surely he cannot enter a second time into his mother's womb to be born!"


Don't think however, that Nicodemus doesn't understand what the Lord Jesus is driving at. He knows the Scriptures. He knows from the Old Testament that the Lord God does not just deal with the flesh, but especially with the heart. But by asking that question, Nicodemus is digging further. He wants to know what man's role is in all this. He wants the Lord Jesus to elaborate. And that's exactly what the Lord Jesus does. He says, "Amen, Amen I say to you, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless he is born of water and the Spirit." Again he emphasizes that this is God's doing. Nicodemus understands that when the Lord Jesus says that you must be born of water, that then he is speaking about the water of baptism. Nicodemus knows what baptism is about. It has to do with cleansing. It is something that the Pharisees themselves required from any Gentile who was converted to Judaism. They had to be circumcised and baptized before they were considered to be part of God's people and allowed to enter the temple in Jerusalem.


The Lord Jesus, however, connects this cleansing ritual with the Spirit. It is the Holy Spirit who washes you and makes you clean and holy. You cannot separate the Holy Spirit from the cleansing. It is God's doing.


When exactly does that happen? Has it happened to you and me? Listen to how the Lord Jesus explains to Nicodemus the mystery of God's working. He is always in control all the way. We come to the third point.


3. In verse eight the Lord Jesus compares the Spirit to the wind. In Greek there are two different words that you can use for wind. The word that he uses here is the same word that is also used of the Spirit. In the Old Testament Hebrew language you can do the same thing. So it was easy for Nicodemus and the original readers to make the immediate connection between wind or breath, and Spirit. And then he reminds Nicodemus about its mysteriousness. You don't always feel the wind but then suddenly it starts blowing. Sometimes you hear it but you don't always know where it comes from. It can blow this way or that way, or not be perceptible at all.


The Lord Jesus tells us that that is also the way it is with the Spirit of God. You have no control over it. You don't know where it goes. It works mysteriously. But God knows. Just like he controls the wind, he also controls the Spirit. It's all his doing. There are those who are regenerated and those who are not regenerated, that is, born again. Ultimately, the decision is God's. It is up to God to let his Spirit blow where he will.


Brothers and sisters, our confessions summarize this doctrine most beautifully in the Canons of Dort, in the third and fourth Head of the doctrine, article 12, which deals with the fact that regeneration is the work of God alone.  That article says: "This conversion is the regeneration, the new creation, the raising from the dead, the making alive, so highly spoken of in the Scriptures, which God works in us without us. But this regeneration is by no means brought about only by outward teaching, by moral persuasion, or by such a mode of operation that, after God has done His part, it remains in the power of man to be regenerated or not regenerated, converted or not converted. It is, however, clearly a supernatural, most powerful, and at the same time most delightful, marvellous, mysterious, and inexpressible work."


And article 13 says, "In this life believers cannot fully understand the way in which God does this work. Meanwhile, however, it is enough for them to know and experience that by this grace of God they believe with the heart and love their Saviour."


It is the mysterious work of God. That is clear from the Word of God and clear from our confession. The Spirit will blow where he will. He will choose whomever he will choose, and reject whomever he will reject.


No doubt you will still have a question at this point. How do I know whether or not I have been reborn? How do I know whether or not I have the Holy Spirit? Well brothers and sisters, and that includes you boys and girls, the Lord Jesus compares the concept of birth to rebirth because there are a lot of similarities. He gives that analogy to help us to understand better. How do you, as parents, know that your child is born? Well, that's obvious. You can see that with your eyes. You were there when that happened. Now your child is alive and because you nurture that child he or she continues to grow and grow and grow. Within a few months a baby will weigh double the amount it weighed at birth. That's because of the good food it will receive. And the child will continue to grow until he or she becomes an adult.


The same thing is true of our rebirth. How do you know you're born again? Well first of all you are alive. You are alive in Christ. He gave you that spiritual birth already when you were a child. In Matthew 18 we read that the Lord Jesus welcomed the little children to him. He says to his disciples that those little children belong to the kingdom of God. A little baby is already a part of the kingdom of God. If you grow up in a believing family and were baptized, then you are already a child of God.


Furthermore, day in and day out, children are being fed God's Word. They grow in their faith. That is the way it is for all of us. We grow in our faith. That also becomes evident from the way that you conduct yourself. Because you have been fed God's Word, you try to live in accordance with God's words. That means that you try to live according to the commandments of God. Isn’t that true of all of you here? Don’t you want to live according to the law of God? Of course you do. Sure you fail in that all the time but nevertheless that is what you want to do. And when you fail, you ask God for the forgiveness of your sins. It is in this way that the Holy Spirit continues to work within you and you remain a child a God.


You will see growth in the Spirit in your children as well. Because they are being fed God's word, they respond to it. They say their prayers at night and talk to God. They can retell the Bible stories. They know that when they do something wrong that then they sin against God. They learn to ask for the forgiveness of their sins. They learn to live out the promises of God, out of what he has done. And so, in spite of their sinfulness, they grow in the Lord.


So we see that, already at birth, we receive the Holy Spirit. Those who were brought up in Christian homes slowly but surely grow in their faith. There's not an exact point where they can say that they were born again.


But, you may say, there are people who can give you the date of their rebirth. They remember that they became totally new creatures when they heard the gospel of salvation. They went from one type of life to another type of life. They went from being dead to being alive. And that’s true.


It also happens that those who were brought up in a Christian home, at first did not really respond to what they were being taught. They rejected it. But then suddenly there comes a point in their life when they turn around. They wake up. They can remember when that happened.


But please don't think that any of this happens because of human effort. Even when you come to faith at a later age it is still in response to what God has done. Listen to what it says in 1 Peter 1:3, "Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead."


The new birth is given to us because of the resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ for all those who belong to him. Our rebirth actually happened long before we were born. Now we have to respond to that. That is true for children as well as for adults. Some respond later than others and differently from others. But our rebirth is never done on the basis of our faith. It is on the basis of what is done from above, by God the Holy Spirit.


And so, when were you born again? At the time of the resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ.


But you have to make new life a reality in your life. You have to live out of what God has done. You have to live out of the promises that he makes. Being born again has to do with conversion. That's a daily activity. Every day again you have to deny your old nature and put on the new. You have to say no to sin and yes to the law of God.


Brothers and sisters, boys and girls, you cannot enter the kingdom of God unless you are born again. The Lord Jesus gives you a new birth through his resurrection. He has made you part of his kingdom. And now you must show that reality in your life. Acknowledge that he is in control of all things. For to him belongs the honour and glory alone. Amen


* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. W.B. Slomp, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.
The source for this sermon was:

(c) Copyright 2008, Rev. W.B. Slomp

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